CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — Crime and public safety are two of the top issues in Charleston mayoral race and Thursday night, the three mayoral candidates laid out their plans in a public safety forum.
Republican JB Akers, Independent Andy Backus and Democrat Amy Shuler Goodwin got the chance to talk about bringing people into downtown Charleston and how they would tackle the specific issues that face each part of the city.
People in the crowd said this is an extremely important race and they hope others are paying attention to each candidate’s stance.
Dealing with vacant properties and drug addiction were two main topics that were discussed.
"I think it starts with enforcing the laws that we have, but we also need to be looking very, very hard at how we can push people as hard as we can toward recovery,” Backus said.
"I've been in this space trying to get a treatment facility built here in Charleston for two years now, I want to help folks but it's got to be the right way, and if I'm mayor that thing at the health department is never coming back,” Akers said.
Akers was referring to the Kanawha Charleston Health Department’s needle exchange program, which was stopped in May and was followed by a scathing DHHR report.
Goodwin gave credit to the needle exchange portion of Health Right’s Harm Reduction program, which serves about 500 people, saying when it comes to needle exchange, the focus needs to be on people.
"We can't be for only one side or for only the other side, we have to listen and we have to learn from one another. No one in the city wants needles everywhere, that's crazy no one would want that,” Goodwin said.
Candidates also discussed how the city can deal with its vagrant criminal population.
"These folks prey upon the local homeless as much as anyone so the question is how do you help the local homeless, you make sure that you minimize the local transient population because the local homeless suffer disproportionately from these folks, they get sexually assaulted, robbed, and that's how you help them first,” Akers said.
To that same question, Goodwin said the city needs more people working with the population face-to-face.
"What can we do? What more can we do? We need more feet. We need more Kevin Johnson's, if anyone knows who Kevin Johnson is, he's one our local community organizers who does nothing else except work with folks who are truly homeless to get them into first housing programs,” Goodwin said.
"The people that are homeless that are living on the streets what they desperately need is resources, if you don't want help, we are going to push hard. We're going to push you towards an area of our city where we can partner with the county, we are partner with non-profits and churches, we want you to have a walk-in place where you can get the help that you need,” Backus said.
Questions from the public all pointed toward one broader question: how can Charleston become a safe and overall better place to live?
You can watch the full public safety forum below: